Another Type of Activism

Harvard on the Potomac

While rejuvenated campus activism engulfed Harvard this year, the University was making its own headlines for activism in the nation's capital.

On everything from financial aid and research funding cuts to pre-publication review of technical studies done on government money, Harvard played a leading role in fending off what University officials have called new and aggressive conservative challenges to educational programs on Capitol Hill and across the country.

President Bok and John Shattuck, vice president for government and public affairs, launched what has been called an unprecedented campaign to fight the Reagan Administration to a standstill.

Bok, who now serves as chairman of the Association of American Universities--one of the chief alliances of educational institutions--testified before the Senate and House and met individually with congressmen to get the message across. Shattuck, for his part, produced what came to be highly influential reports on the nature and effects of proposed federal policies, in addition to his own one-on-one lobbying.

"This was an unusual year in that I can't recall a time when such initiatives from the White House would have had such adverse effects on higher education and on Harvard," Bok says.


"After a few close calls we have passed the major hurdles in the Senate, the budget now going through is substantially better," he says. "Because of advance planning and a decade of experience in Washington. I think we were articulate and we presented our case as well as we could."


This flurry of defensive activism was in large part Harvard's response to what Shattuck terms "a tremendous pincer movement," constituting the most severe threat to the financing of higher education in recent years.

Pincer number one was the Administration's attempts to curtail financial aid to students and research funding to scientists, as part of an ongoing campaign to reduce federal expenditures on social programs. Pincer number two was a Reagan proposal to cut dramatically the standard tax deduction for charitable gifts, as part of an overall tax reform--a move reducing the incentive to give.

In this way, the government endangered private as well as public funding for universities and colleges, according to University officials. One of the 10 remaining schools with need-blind admissions, Harvard needs both sources of money, says Shattuck.

The third prong of Harvard's political involvement this year concerned restrictions on government-sponsored research. Shattuck authored a highly publicized report accusing several departments of the federal government of inhibiting free inquiry, censoring studies critical of federal policy and possibly implicitly using research sponsorship to try to influence what findings are published.

Observers in Washington note that while Harvard has often taken a vanguard stance on national educational issues, the past year has witnessed a marked escalation in tactics. "Harvard has had traditionally a leading spokesman role in American higher educaion. I wish more colleges would do that--it would make things much easier down here," says Lawrence S. Zaglaniczny, an American Council on Education congressional liaison. The step-up occurred, he adds, because while "in the two years before the election it was virtually a foregone conclusion that Congress would reject any aid cuts, with the president's mandate it was much more serious."

Educational lobbyists express the most gratitude for the University's comprehensive and specific analyses of the effects on Harvard and Massachusetts students if the President's proposed budget cuts were adopted. One such study, for example, found that the College stood to lose more than half of its federal aid subsidy. Massachusetts Governor Michael S. Dukakis quoted another study when the he joined the lobbying effort.

A Harvard-initiated report also played a key role in the ongoing debate over the charity deduction. A December study conducted with the help of faculty members in the Economics Department found that Harvard and all charities would lose an average 30 percent of their present gift income and that any economic growth stimulated by the tax reform could at most make up a third of the loss. Legislative aides and lobbyists say the report circulated widely on the Hill and helped prompt the Congressional outcry which pressured Reagan into retracting the deduction cut last week.

Shattuck acknowledges that, despite the battles of the season, "the threats are not going to go away" while the debate over cutting the deficit continues to rage. "Reagan's policy has put at risk some items of very substantial value to Harvard, to higher education, and to society," he contends. Nevertheless, he says, "Harvard has been quite successful in staying off disaster" in the form of the greatest threat to academic freedom since the McCarthy Era and the greatest to universities' financial stability for the past 15 years.

First among the year's clearcut victories for Harvard and the educational community Shattuck lists the speedy demise of charity deduction cut. "We started the year with a lot of confusion about why it was so important, and we ended the year with the understanding that charities are something special." Also at least partially due to Harvard efforts, government figures "for the first time in five or six years engaged in wide debate about access to higher education and equity," says Shattuck. This debate has led to "an understanding that student aid is a really cost-efficient way of guaranteeing access to students who couldn't otherwise pay," contrary to claims by Reagan and Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, he says.

New Administration sensitivity and decreased restrictions on the publication of work done on government contracts has also been encouraging to Shattuck. Shattuck's report on the matter proved a rallying point for protest in the educational community, which in turn led to an amendment to the Export Control Act. That act had been used to restrict the publication of unclassified technological information on the grounds that the exporting of many kinds of technical capability to enemy countries violated the law. The recent amendment specifically exempts academic institutions from the act's purview.

Shattuck attributes some of Harvard's political success to the University's traditional emphasis on pursuing legislative advancement of education. But he also gives President Bok credit for the unusual amount of personal interest he has shown in the realm of public policy. He says Bok's leadership has been especially welcomed by educators and legislators because he has refused to support only the cause of private or Ivy League schools, choosing instead to fight for higher education as a whole.